Sometimes you don’t have to travel far from home to have a great escape.
In this time of economic instability, it is essential to take care of one’s health and sanity. Worry and stress can make you sick — it’s a fact. So even if a trip to Italy may be out of the question, there’s place just down the road where you can still get away from it all without spending a small fortune: the other Venice known as Venice Beach. Just pack a bag, call the pet sitter and (gasp) leave your handheld devices at home — you need a break. Play out-of-town tourist and discover a distinctive destination just miles from your front door.
The Venice Beach House, a signature 1911 Craftsman-style bungalow listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a fun place to base your mini-vacation. Nestled on a pedestrian-only sidewalk street, it’s just a hop and a skip from the sand, surf and the canals. Considered the grande dame of bed and breakfasts in the Los Angeles area, it is overflowing with flowers and early California charm. There are nine elegant guest rooms that will take you out of the mad rush of the city and drop you into turn-of-the-last-century” warmth and hospitality. The bedchambers are individually named and decorated with antiques that provide a personal touch.
A room we especially like is upstairs: the Abbot Kinney’s Room. It features a queen bed, a romantic balcony and plaid woolen upholstered walls. It’s named for the dreamer and founder of Venice who purchased a few miles of marshland along the shoreline that people called “Kinney’s Folly.” Kinney envisioned magically transporting Venice, Italy, to coastal California. He dredged canals, built boardwalks and bathhouses and created a popular seaside resort town that proved his critics wrong.
The Aimee MacPherson Suite is also a favorite. MacPherson was a famous early-20th-century evangelist and faith healer who simply disappeared from this room one day. The rumor was that she walked out of her room’s private entrance straight into the Pacific Ocean and appeared one month later in the Arizona desert claiming she’d been abducted by aliens (after all, Venice is Venice!). Insiders say she was really having a tryst with her married accountant.
This charming B&B provides a generous breakfast that can be served in your room, in the sunny enclosed alcove just off the living room or outside on the verandah. One morning it might be French toast, the next bacon and eggs, but it always includes homemade breads, jams and apple butter, seasonal fruits, fresh squeezed juice and tea or fresh ground coffee. In the early evening hours, guests gather on the verandah or in the plush living room for refreshments, a welcoming fire and spectacular sunsets.
You can spend your day on the beach or strolling the Venice Beach boardwalk with its slightly crazy entertainers, and peruse the offerings of shops that sell anything and everything. Artists, poets and potters abound against a background of brightly painted murals. You can gaze at the bodybuilders, eat pizza and freshly popped kettle corn and buy sunglasses for your dog back home. Need some exercise after that? Rent a bike or rollerblades and scoot down the winding bike path that stretches all the way from Pacific Palisades to Redondo Beach.
If you want something posh, you can stop in at Coast, the beachfront patio restaurant of Shutters on the Beach hotel. It’s a great spot for breakfast or lunch, and it’s just a few feet from the bike path. Be sure to visit one of the most beautiful bars and lobbies in town at the Casa Del Mar Hotel, right next door to Shutters. You’ll feel like you just stepped into the movie Casablanca, and it’s a superb place to watch a sunset. When the hotel was being refurbished to its better-than-new flavor, a call went out for everyone in town to donate pictures of the hotel and old Santa Monica. They are displayed in the lobby, which has massive fireplaces, comfortably oversized furniture and a pianist that plays in the evenings.
At night, check out the Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park Fun Zone. The pier boasts a 1922 carousel, a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster. There is no admission fee to the wooden pier built in 1909, and the carnival atmosphere will remind you what it’s like to be a kid again. Ride on the Ferris wheel for a spectacular view from Malibu to Palos Verdes.
Venice is also home to a very special and relatively unknown find, The Mosaic Tile House. It is open only by appointment. The owners, Cheri Pann and Gonzalo Duran, actually live here and both are artists. They are eager to share with you their home, their art and their friendship. Leave time to stroll the streets along Abbot Kinney, named after the founder of the town. It includes interesting restaurants, art galleries, and antique and clothing shops. Each establishment has its own eclectic charm.
One favorite eating spot for among the locals is Primitivo Wine Bistro, a great place for wine, beer and tapas. They also serve full entrees, but many guests like to share several appetizers. The food has Mediterranean influences with several local fish choices on the menu. The decor is warm and inviting, and the ceiling is dotted with chandeliers collected from antique stores around town. The atmosphere is jovial, and the staff is knowledgeable and friendly. The sommelier/owner, Daniel Deny, is especially pleasant and informative, and he boasts an extensive international wine list. An extraordinary selection of wines by the glass is a special treat. Their Sangria Sundays from 4 to 10 p.m. is a perfect way to end your mini-getaway. So raise your glass and toast the Pacific Ocean, California sunsets and the funky magic of Venice.